Dear Abby: My boyfriend is going to be 20 years old next month. I’d like to give him something nice for his birthday. What do you think he’d like? —Carol
Dear Carol: Nevermind what he’d like, give him a tie.
Dear Abby: Our son married a girl when he was in the service. They were married in February and she had an 8 1/2-pound baby girl in August. She said the baby was premature. Can an 8 1/2-pound baby be this premature? —Wanting to Know
Dear Wanting: The baby was on time. The wedding was late. Forget it.
After all, Shakespeare retailed royalist propaganda; Ezra Pound was an anti-Semitic idiot. And, for that matter, George Bernard Shaw wrote about the evils of vivisection and Richard Wright wrote about the evils of the Jim Crow south. They weren’t beyond or outside their times; they were smack in the middle of them. And if you’re a writer, your time and place will shape you too. What’s so scary about that? Your parents, or someone, taught you the language you’re using, and once you’ve begun in such a derivative manner, it seems silly to be embarrassed to go on with it. You can spend your existence constantly looking over your own shoulder for fear of contagion. Or you could instead assume that you are still capable of listening, learning, changing, making mistakes, and, if you’re lucky, even of making a little money like Trollope now and then. Write, in short, as if you are alive, both because the alternative is cramped and stupid, and because you don’t have any other choice.
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rachelgiulia asked: I've been doing newspaper and lit./arts magazine design in college, but I don't know any code, just InDesign. How can I turn this into something cool or employable? WHO ARE THE MYSTERY MEN AND WOMEN BEHIND YOUR PAGES?
You’ve probably heard this before, but there’s no “right” way to get a job—especially a job in journalism. Anybody who says otherwise is feeding you nonsense.
My advice? Stay with what excites you. Find the smart people who are the best at doing what you want to do, and then (privately) critique their work—it’ll help you learn why they’re the best. Make stuff on your own and share it with the world. Work hard. Never assume that anything will be given to you.
Also, internships. The unfortunate reality of our industry is that if you have the financial ability to bear the cost of an unpaid internship, you’re at an advantage. Paid or unpaid, though, internships are an excellent opportunity to meet other people who work in journalism. When an internship ends, stay in touch with your old bosses. Relationships matter.
If you stick with what interests you, you may be surprised to end up somewhere unexpected. (For example, I never worked in social media before coming to The Atlantic.) So, don’t fight changes—run with them. As long as you’re excited about you’re doing, or working toward a job that’ll give you that privilege, you’re on the right track.
Good luck! I’m rooting for you.
(p.s. I’m the guy on the left.)
- When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else.
- When an adult, try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.
- Don’t romanticise your ‘vocation’. You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no ‘writer’s lifestyle’. All that matters is what you leave on the page.
Them: “So-and-so won a bronze medals!”
You: “That’s fascinating. Did you know bronze is composed of roughly 88 percent copper and 12 percent tin? Its melting point is about 1742 degrees Fahrenheit.”
Them: “I wonder how London’s dealing with the Olympics.”
You: “That’s fascinating. More fascinating is how London dealt with World War II aerial bombardment. Working people basically forced their way into the tube stations during the Blitzkrieg, where they slept on the platforms.”
This is a fantastic speech by Neil Gaiman, addressing the 2012 graduating class of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Gaiman himself never graduated from college—in fact, he never even enrolled in college—yet he earned his place in literary culture as one of the most celebrated and prolific writers working today. Here, he imparts several pieces of life wisdom on young people beginning a career in the arts.
- Say “no” to projects that take you further from rather than closer to your own creative goals, however flattering or lucrative.
- Approach your creative labor with joy, or else it becomes work.
- Embrace your fear of failure. Make peace with the impostor syndrome that comes with success. Don’t be afraid of being wrong.
- When things get tough, make good art.